GV Professors Discuss Neurodivergence in Higher Education – Grand Valley Lanthorn

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On February 4, Grand Valley State University’s Office of Undergraduate Research and Scholarship hosted an inclusive webinar for interested staff and faculty to learn more about neurodivergence and teach neurodiverse students. This session was the first of a two-part series that will conclude with a second session on Friday, February 18.

The event brought together professors from several different departments. From math to music, teachers wanted to learn more about neurodiverse students and new ways to support them as they deal with their strengths and challenges.

The conference was moderated by GVSU Professor Jamie Owen-DeSchryver, whose research area focuses on autism. Conditions such as ADHD, dyslexia, OCD, and Tourette’s syndrome all fall under neurodivergence and were discussed at the conference.

Lauren Keough, an assistant professor at GVSU since 2016, attended the conference after noticing an increased number of students discussing their neurodivergent diagnoses. Lately, Keough said more students have been willing to reach out to her and talk about their neurodivergent conditions and the challenges those conditions can bring to her class.

Keough also noticed that more students struggled in general whether they disclosed this information with her or not.

“We’re all struggling, especially at the start of our third year of the pandemic,” Keough said.

The lecture was attended by about 20 other GVSU faculty who had concerns similar to Keough’s. Some professors have even confided during group sharing that they also fall under the neurodivergent umbrella.

Owen-DeSchryver began the lecture by focusing on what neurodivergence means and how it can affect students positively and negatively. Some students may not know they think differently in the first place, making it difficult to understand how others can help and bring out the strengths of neurodivergent individuals.

One of the main goals discussed by participants was to find new ways to change stigma and embrace differences.

“We want people to think differently, but we also stigmatize when people think differently,” Keough said.

Neurodivergence can appear in students in several ways. Common signs include organizational issues, meeting strict deadlines, and paying attention to small details in lessons. On the other hand, neurodivergence can also result in increased creativity, enthusiasm, outside-the-box thinking, and longer periods of sustained energy.

Keough said no two people with autism spectrum disorders are the same, and the challenges and strength vary from person to person. She was able to notice that with the students who shared their diagnosis with her, no two are the same. Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses.

“Many faculty and staff attended the meeting, and we hope students will contact us to get the things they need to succeed at Grand Valley,” Keough said. “We’re all here right now, doing our best.”

After attending this seminar, Keough looks forward to attending the next session which will focus on how to help students more specifically. Together, the end goal of both sessions is to educate teachers on the background of neurodivergence and how to move forward and make changes in their classrooms.

The next conference will only be open to teachers. Interested participants are encouraged to attend both sessions to obtain the full breadth of information available. RSVP links are available on the GVSU Events page.

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